There may have never been as much hype surrounding a season as the one the Texans are about to embark upon.
Romeo Crennel is back as the defensive coordinator. So many of our starters are returning from injury. There are four new starting offensive linemen. There are rookies who can add depth and talent. There are so many narratives that to address I am almost nauseated with excitement.
The 2018 Houston Texans are a puzzle with a ton of corner pieces to get us started. It’s up to the coaching staff to put the players in the right positions. Beyond the spotlight, there are a litany of other developing plots that could make or break the Texans’ upcoming season.
1. Deshaun Watson’s Touchdown to Interception Ratio
Keep it on the hush hush, but Watson has a knack for throwing a lot of interceptions. “Too many interceptions due to lack of vision, placement or decision-making” was one of his knocks in his rookie draft profile. However, and fortunately for the Texans, Watson throws a ton of touchdowns as well. His high-risk, high-reward style of play means that the team’s season is at the mercy of Watson’s decision-making.
Last year, he threw 19 touchdowns and eight interceptions. A ton of these interceptions were due to staring down receivers or trying to fit passes into tight windows. Many predict Watson to return from outer space in terms of his passing effectiveness, but if Watson can limit the avoidable interceptions, the Texans have a chance to win any game they are in this season.
2. Tyrann Mathieu’s Impact on the Secondary
Preseason play revealed the Texans’ secondary may not be as formidable as once hoped. The addition of Kayvon Webster is the latest in a massive overhaul of a secondary that’s aging quickly. The Texans had a -12 turnover differential last year, 28th in the league, and Mathieu stands as the biggest difference in that category for the Texans. He has recorded 11 interceptions in his career, and when healthy, he is one of the best safeties in the league. The Texans will have two new starting safeties this season, and the Honey Badger’s experience will pay dividends as the team begins to gel in the back end. Mathieu is most likely the most reliable player in the entire secondary. If he can return to his 2015 self, Houston’s defense instantly becomes one of the most terrifying in the league.
3. D’Onta Foreman’s Health and Return
Foreman blossomed into a versatile, tough, and exciting backup running back midway through last season before he tore his Achilles on a touchdown run against the Cardinals. The former Longhorn has been rehabbing ever since but is still not ready to play. The Texans placed him on the Physically Unable to Play (PUP) List before roster cuts this past weekend, which means that he must sit out the first six weeks of the season.
When he returns, it will be at a time when defenses start to wear down and a hard-nosed running back could make the difference in the game. Foreman demonstrated a pass catching ability unseen at Texas and hopefully can add a jolt of excitement once he returns. For now, Alfred Blue, Tyler Ervin, and Buddy Howell will back up Lamar Miller.
4. Battle at Slot Receiver
Bill O’Brien’s aggressiveness with his formations will be something of a paradox compared to past stale and predictive offenses. Need evidence? The Texans cut fullback Jay Prosch, and instead kept six wide receivers.
The Texans have a position battle between veteran Bruce Ellington and rookie Keke Coutee for the slot position. This battle has been in slow with Coutee sidelined due to a hamstring injury. Although many of us thought Braxton Miller would be a part of that conversation, but the Texans looked at other options instead of keeping the ex-quarterback.
In 2017, Ellington had 29 catches for 330 yards and two touchdowns, making him the third wide receiver option last year. His production picked up later in the season due to injuries across the offense, but he is at risk of losing his job to Coutee, whose lightning quickness and sure hands could be a huge asset for this team. With all three of the tight ends on the roster capable of catching the ball, it will be interesting to watch who becomes Watson’s safety net when he scrambles or looks over the middle.
5. Seattle Seahawks’ Record
That’s right. This matters. The Texans possess Seattle’s second round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft after they traded LT Duane Brown during the season last year. Every loss that the Seahawks register in the loss column in 2018 is a small victory for the Texans. The Russell Wilson led Seahawks do not face a playoff team until Week 5’s game against the Rams, but they have a whale of a schedule towards the end of the season. If the Seahawks’ season falls apart and Pete Carroll cannot right the ship, the Texans could be in position to have an early second round pick in April to pair with what we hope is a very late second-rounder courtesy of Houston’s 2018 record.